Turkish cuisine is based on using fresh ingredients; fruit and vegetables are bought daily and seasonality is the key. However, especially in Southern Turkey, we also like to dry vegetables like eggplant (aubergine), bell and pointy peppers and okra when they are fresh, to be used when they’re not in season. In villages, these vegetables are simply attached in a piece of string when fresh (we scoop out the middle part/flesh of aubergines and peppers first; they are wonderful when stuffed with aromatic rice and/or ground meat), and hang outside village homes or terraces, to dry at the summer sunshine. With all the moisture gone, the result is intensely flavored dried vegetables ready to use.
Whenever I go to the Spice Market in Istanbul, I always get dried okra, aubergine and peppers. They not only taste great, but they also make wonderful decoration and a great talking point at my cooking classes.
Recently, my good friend and brilliant blogger Peri posted a wonderful Okra and Potato Stir fry recipe, at her blog Peri’s Spice Ladle, flavoring the okra with fragrant Indian spices, and inspired me to use my dried okra. It is amazing to see the similarities between Turkish and Indian cuisine, especially the love of spices; Peri’s lovely recipes are worth checking out.
So here comes Southern Turkish style okra with chicken. In Southern Turkish cooking, we like to keep the okra as whole, give a little trim to the stalk. We use lemon juice to reduce the sliminess and flavor the okra with dried mint and red pepper flakes; I love the refreshing, tangy taste of the dish and the texture that comes with the chickpeas. For a vegetarian option, you can skip chicken; potatoes would really work well with this dish too.
Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 35 minutes
225gr/ 1/2lb fresh okra or dried okra
250gr/9oz chicken breast, cut in bite size chunks
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400gr/14oz can of chopped tomatoes
400gr/14oz can of cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
30ml/2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
8fl oz/1 cup hot water
10ml/2 tsp dried mint
5ml/1 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Plain rice to serve
Wedge of lemon to serve
To prepare the okra:
If you are using dried okra, simmer them in a pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, just soft enough to slip through the string. Drain the water and take out the string, set aside.
If you are using fresh okra, trim the stalks, then place the okra in a bowl. You can treat them with the juice of lemon to retain color and reduce sliminess. As an alternative, you can also or sprinkle with 2-3 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar over okra and leave it to stand for about 1 hr, as Ghille Basan, the prominent Turkish cookery author recommends.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and stir in the onion. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and chicken pieces and cook for 3-4 minutes to brown them. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and ground black pepper. Mix to combine thoroughly.
Sprinkle the okra over the chicken and pour the lemon juice and hot water on top. Stir, cover the pan and cook gently for 20 minutes, until the okra are tender but not soggy. Add the (rinsed) cooked chickpeas, combine well and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the dried mint and red pepper flakes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Serve hot with plain rice and extra wedge of lemon by the side.